Race Report: London Marathon 2018 – The Return!

Sunday April 22nd, 2018

So this was it. The day was finally here. 18 weeks of miles and smiles, personal bests, terrific ‘Beasts’ and torrid weather, countless laps of my local park, sometimes in total darkness. Somehow, I’d evaded any potential injury issues despite a near constant 18 months of running since December 2016. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, but by and large, I could say I’d had my best ever preparation for a marathon.

I woke up just prior to my 6am alarm in a Peckham AirBnB. The kit was already arranged, the luggage 95% packed and ready to go, the clear bag stickered and loaded with everything for the luggage lorries. The sun was up, and it was beaming. The distinctive London morning air was gently breezing in through the windows of the flat. I looked myself in the mirror. Was today the day I would call myself a sub-3 marathoner?

For the last couple of days I’d been stationed in London with my wife, Laura, taking her through a bit of the marathon experience with me, and enjoying some of its rich sights and culture. First it was the Expo, of course, to collect my race number, which we whizzed around in about an hour, the best part being the treadmill challenge where you can run at course record pace for 400 metres. I succeeded at this and won a nice Abbott snood for my troubles. We had a night at the theatre that evening, bagging front row seats for The Woman in Black, and spent time in Greenwich Park the following afternoon, taking in the Royal Observatory and Planetarium. I couldn’t have asked for a more relaxing approach to the big day, and certainly from this aspect my mind was perfectly calmed, even positioned in the heart of the marathon’s red start area

Suddenly it’s real again!

The sun was shining over London from very early on and it didn’t take long for the temperature to warm up. I needed to get from Peckham to Greenwich via Lewisham DLR, and then onto Maze Hill for the green start zone. I didn’t exactly help myself that morning when, after seeing a fellow entrant get off at a stop I wasn’t expecting, I panicked and got off the bus at the next stop, thinking I’d somehow got on the wrong bus. It turned out I was on the right bus all along, and not making it any easier for Laura, who had set off with me in order to reach Embankment early. The next bus arrived two minutes later and took us to Lewisham. From thereon it was smooth sailing, saying my byes to Laura at Greenwich Station, before heading to the platform for Maze Hill.

All smiles at Greenwich DLR
The long walk to Green Start

It all seemed familiar again now. It hadn’t changed one bit from when I last saw it two years ago. The long, winding walk from Maze Hill Station, its streets signposted with large arrows to the assembly point at Maze Hill Park. The one change from London 2016 was a queue to get into the assembly area for baggage checks. There were a few grumbles in the queue but you can’t blame them for putting on an extra layer of security at a major event. It didn’t take very long to get through anyway, and before long I was organised, changed into my running shades (actually a cheap pair of Primark sunglasses), away for a quick pre-race pitstop at the urinals, and then I could relax and soak up the atmosphere. My eyes scanned for another Halifax Harriers vest, but alas mine is not the only club featuring sky blue as its main colour. I did finally meet Alan, a fellow Running the World member, himself an experienced marathoner, my bright orange visor clearly doing its job of standing me out to people I’d asked to look out for me! Having talked a few things about running and the upcoming race, Alan went to his pen while I carried out my warm up, going for a quick jog in and around the masses before finally assembling for the start.

The scene at Green Start, Maze Hill

I ended up ensconced in the front pen, using what narrow space I had to prepare breathing exercises, a few back twists and a series of squats. On the big screen to our left, the Queen, starting the race from Windsor Castle. The horns sounded, and twenty seconds later, the Garmin was activated, timing mats crossed, and into my stride. London Marathon 2018 was underway!

The first half of my race went pretty much to plan. I was running mostly inside my planned 6:40 mile pace, taking advantage of downhills for extra pace. Mile 3 was a 6:19, which opened up a nice gap on my target. I wasn’t too concerned about going too hard here – I’d pushed it along gently – and I saved a little bit on the hill climbs. A collision between two runners happened behind me, which I wasn’t caught up in. I don’t think it was anything I did – I was moving forwards in a straight line, I felt genuinely relieved to have just escaped getting clipped in the fall. That incident stood out for me as a euphemism for what was to come.

Cutty Sark was predictably mental, a wall of noise encircling the runners as they ran past the great galleon. All in all, the near miss aside, it was a reasonably uneventful I kept at or inside my pace until mile 11, where I posted two slightly slower miles (6:55 and 7:00) to manage my pace. I got a great cheer out of shouting ‘let’s hear it Rotherhithe!’, and it was great picking out the Yorkshire flags in the crowd. The showers were a great relief, none more so than the great one delivered by London Fire Brigade shortly after the first shower section. Picking up the pace again heading on to Tower Bridge, an iconic landmark that I wish every runner could experience once, I crossed halfway in 1:28:19, quicker than my 2016 first half and well on course for the sub-3 I wanted.

Over the course of that first half I’d done no end of enforcing the organisers’ ‘Drink, Douse, Drain, Drop’ policy – drink what you need to, douse yourself with it, drain the rest onto the road, and drop the empty contents at the side of the road. I was already feeling a little warm at 3 miles but the water cooled me down. but it was getting more and more uncomfortable, seemingly taking a shower every mile just to keep cool, at times removing my visor just to catch a slight breeze against my forehead.

With the heat bearing down with ever more intensity, I realised quickly I was struggling to maintain my effort. Deciding that I wasn’t coping very well any more, feeling a little more unsure on my feet, I decided to not chase after the sub-3 hour time. I was still on course at this time, but I was struggling to keep sufficiently cool and at mile 15, that was to be it. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but I knew the priority now had to be simply to get to the finish. The big goal was slipping away. I cantered at around 8 minute mile pace up to mile 18 but then it got torrid. I suddenly I didn’t have the power to generate any real pace, similar to how I’ve occasionally felt on a long hilly run when I’ve had one hill too many. The quads just weren’t having it. I can’t explain that in any other way than my effort versus the intensity of the day.

I kept to my race nutrition plan of taking the gels at 1:35, 1:55 and 2:15, but they weren’t re-energising me at all. The sun and my previous effort had sapped my capability to run at a sufficiently fast pace and from then on it was a battle against the weather conditions. I switched to run/walking, by walking the start of every mile for about 30 seconds before continuing, counting using my fingers, and not my watch, which have going under one of the underpasses, I realised wasn’t of much use anymore. And with my time goal out of the window, and with it my best hope of ever getting into London again, I didn’t pay too much attention to the watch, other than to notice how much my pace declined, and now tried to focus instead on simply finishing the race.

By mile 20, I strongly considered pulling out. I’ve never DNF’d and I’m not one for quitting. Caffeine abstinence not included. But I was glancing more at medical staff at points on the course, I’d seen one or two stretchers being wheeled about (thankfully not with anybody on them, but still), and I didn’t feel too steady between water/shower points. I’d also nearly vomited once or twice. There’s only so much sweet stuff one can take. Malt loaf is stodgy, Chia Charge crumbly, and gels, sweets energy drinks, even oranges – what I would have given now for a sausage roll! But I knew Laura, my wife, would be further up the course at Embankment. I opted to continue, continuing with the run/walk strategy.

The crowd support was simply incredible. People willing me on to keep going, not to give up, cheering me by my club name, and it kept me going. A marshal even gave me their water at one point, which was a brilliant gesture I’m very thankful for. I kept hold of that water for a good half a mile or so.

Papped at mile 23! (credit: Philip Bland/Yorkshire Runner Photos)

I finally found Laura up at Embankment, having spent the last two or three miles staying to and scanning the right hand side of the course. Laura was going to get a good photo of me but I ambushed her. I was so happy to see her. With no time to chase, the laser focus had gone, and I gave her a massive hug, nearly tripping over the roadside barrier in the process. Mile 24 was a 13:47, according to my watch. That could have been due to the second underpass playing havoc with my watch, but I definitely walked a few times that mile. Onwards I went, and beyond mile 25, one of my club mates, Andy, caught up with me. We’d been talking about the marathon on Tuesday night. At this point I hadn’t recognised him, not even by his voice. To be fair, he was wearing bright shades and I wasn’t in the best state. He kept me going for another half a mile with a bit more pace, until we approached 600 metres from the finish, where I couldn’t keep up and had to let him go ahead while I took one last walk.

Onwards I went, and finally the finishing straight down the Mall. I raised my arms with a shrug as if to say ‘well, that didn’t exactly go to plan’, and crossed the line, finishing London for a second time. It was over. 3:22:59

I was asked by a female volunteer if I was OK. I said ‘I can’t have any more sugar’. I was told there was water in the goody bags. I received my medal, walked straight past the Marathon Foto picture stands – I was in no mood, or state, for an expensive medal photo – staggered a bit further, got in line for my finisher t-shirt and goody bag, and went immediately for the water, gradually sipping it as I walked with Andy for a bit to find my bag from the assorted baggage lorries. I wasn’t angry, nor disappointed I finished precisely 23 minutes down on my target. Nor disenfranchised. I just didn’t feel right. Not really OK. I felt physically and mentally broken.

I contemplated seeing a physio. Or specifically, a doctor.

I contacted Laura to see where she was and it seemed she was on her way. After getting off the phone, two German runners approached me asking me to take a photo for them. I gladly obliged – there’s a nice synchronicity to this I’ll further elaborate on soon – but then decided to contact Laura again as I unsteadily proceeded towards Horseguards Parade. Unfortunately, Laura seemed unsure of her exact whereabouts, although nearby, and network traffic meant she wasn’t able to get any pictures to show me her position. She wasn’t too familiar with the landmarks either. I tried to guide her to the arches making up Admiralty Arch near Charing Cross, but in the meantime I felt more and more delirious, and leaning towards seeing a doctor. In the end, Laura confirmed she was near the Household Cavalry, so I exited onto Whitehall to find her. Eventually we reunited, but I was getting more delirious, deciding I wanted a cold can of Coca Cola. I got one, along with a chicken and bacon sandwich from Pret-A-Manger I couldn’t stomach.

We then headed for the underground to King’s Cross via Piccadilly. From Piccadilly it was a nightmare. Two other runners previously had remarked how hot I was and one said I looked pale, but none of this registered. I rode the Piccadilly to King’s Cross journey in extreme discomfort. It was like riding in an oven. I was sweating buckets, feeling less in control. Laura by this point was finding me insufferable, and I knew I was – I was finding myself insufferable. The tube doors finally opened at King’s Cross, where I headed for the nearest bench to finally drink the cola. My appetite for food went as far as one tiny bite of the sandwich. As we went upstairs, things alleviated slightly, and having arrived for our train quite early, a Calippo lolly, of all things, finally brought me back round and restored my appetite, and we had a safe journey home.

Yep. I should have seen a doctor.

The back of this year’s finisher medal

Now, where were we. Oh yes. The marathon. Well, my official race photos don’t show it, but as I crossed the line I’m fairly sure I lifted my hands and shrugged my shoulders as if to say ‘well, that didn’t quite go to plan’. The weather had dealt everyone a bad hand – chances are if you were from the UK and you ran London 2018, you would have done at least a week of your training in the snow. Of course it was unlikely we would get such bad conditions in April. No, we got a slightly extreme opposite. Very little time to acclimatise to running in hot weather, all you can do is prepare, and as the organisers said, reduce your expectations of your finishing time. Basically, all that training for a sub – 3 marathon, only to be told that it probably isn’t going to happen today. It didn’t stop me trying. Had I sustained my effort from the first 5K, my predicted time was a 2:53. That would have been incredible, but everyone knows a marathon isn’t decided in the first 5K of a race. The sensible thing to do would have been to judge my pace a little better and save a bit more of my effort, but the weather played a big part in that – when I ran marathon pace up to mile 20 in training, I ought to feel confident in my ability to last the distance, and without question I did on race day. That training peak was done in much colder weather, however. The 10K race I ran in London last summer wasn’t even this warm. As a result, my race paid the price. I’ve never had to suffer for so long during a marathon. If disaster hits, it’s usually much closer to the end.

The front of the finisher’s medal

I’m not disappointed in my result because I took it into my own hands not to pursue the sub-3 beyond mile 15. I simply wanted to get to the end and accepted it wasn’t going to happen. I did accept I was going to try despite the organisers’ advice, and I did keep a little something in reserve near Tower Bridge, but ultimately it was either my brain or my body that would influence the outcome, and I let my brain choose first. I did have one ‘head-in-hands’ moment some time after crossing the finish, but this was probably the delirium and confusion at trying to locate Laura, and not genuine disappointment.

Post- race, I should have sought assistance sooner, or indeed just actually sought assistance. My goody bag contained stuff that would have brought me round, like salty protein bars, and energy drink with electrolytes. I paid a bit of a price for not bringing or purchasing hydration tablets – they’ve got me out of a haze many a time. Next time, I need to take better care of myself post race, and maybe someone to stop me if they can see I’m not right or myself at all. Yet I know I’m not the only one who suffered out there – so many struggled with the conditions, and tragically one person, Matt Campbell, a talented chef, raising money for The Brathay Trust, a charity that works with vulnerable young people, died out on the course. It really does put things into context. Safety and wellbeing is paramount in an event as gruelling and indeed brutal as it was today. I had a horrible feeling it would claim somebody, but to hear it actually confirmed is dreadful news. That the running community and general public have responded with such generosity and togetherness, boosting Matt’s JustGiving page to well over £300,000 (and rising further), and running 3.7 miles to ‘complete’ Matt’s marathon, embodies the ‘Spirit of London’ way beyond the M25.

A great number of family, friends and colleagues have congratulated me on a great time and for completing the race. While I will differ personally on what I will regard as ‘a great time’, I still got around the course respectfully, even if I did take nearly two hours to complete the second half of the race. Its wonderful to receive such support, particularly from those who don’t run – it’s positive to have such an effect just from my efforts alone, and on this occasion the time doesn’t really mean much at all. The actual completion of the marathon does. And it makes it all the more worthwhile for not giving up and finishing the race.

London is behind me now. With no Good For Age time, I’m left with the general ballot, my running club’s mini ballot, or the charity route. I’m not likely to apply at all. I’ve run London twice and I feel incredibly privileged to have been in a position to guarantee my entry twice in a three year period. Its time somebody who hasn’t run before – and by that I mean the runners who apply time and time again just to get a ‘sorry’ magazine, or sometimes a rejection email. They should have the chance to run London at least once. It remains pretty much one of the best marathons in this country for organisation and atmosphere. Its why 350,000 people per year apply. I will chase my targets at other marathons, and will consider carefully where I will next attempt a sub-3 time. Because that part of me hasn’t gone away, and it would be churlish to give up on that goal through one rough day in the office, so to speak.

For now it’s a period of recovery, easing back into running and then preparing for my next big challenge. Which will be a half marathon. In Munich, Germany. In the height of the European summer. Crikey…

The ballot for the 2019 London Marathon is now open (until Friday May 4th, 5:00pm)

Find me on the Finish Line camera at 3:23:19 over on BBC iPlayer (if you can access it)

Read my review of my performance at London Marathon 2016 here


Race Report: Yorkshire Road Relay Championships 2018 @ The Brownlee Centre, Leeds

Saturday April 7th, 2018

A few weeks ago, after my performance at the Liversedge Half Marathon, I was approached by one of the coaches at the Halifax Harriers (my club) who invited me to take part in a race known as the Yorkshire Road Relays Championships. My progress since joining the club has now seen me considered for the club’s relay squads as one of their faster runners. Although I was invited to run a relay the previous year, it clashed with the Ilkley Aquathlon, which I’d already booked, and hence I had to decline. Receiving the call in this way made it feel more like an opportunity earned, and indeed an opportunity to show what I could do for the club, not just myself.

This particular day, I was scheduled, as per my training diary, to run a 4 mile marathon pace session. Although running at 5K race pace wasn’t exactly in the plan for tapering, I felt capable and ready of swapping this race in for my planned run round the local park without affecting the taper too much. I confidently assured myself and the club I was up for this.

This was the third annual Yorkshire Road Relays Championships, and the first to be held at the Brownlee Centre, five miles north of Leeds city centre. Opened in 2016, in honour of the famous Brownlee brothers, Alistair and Jonny, it is a state of the art triathlon performance centre, with a one mile cycle track, on which the relays were taking place, a purpose built transition area, completely traffic free, with excellent facilities to boot.

The Harriers had five teams entered into the men’s race, which would consist of three laps of 1600m (4800m in total). I was selected for the ‘C’ team and running the ‘A’ leg as denoted by my race number, meaning I would be running the opening leg. The aim remained the same – finish in the fastest time possible – only this time, I was running for my teammates, and indeed, my club. This was a fresh ethos to run under, personally, and one I can say, looking back, inspires you to try that little bit harder.

Simon, one of the coaches organising our participation, wished me good luck and said if I ran like I had in training I’d do well. I acknowledged him, but as I walked off I felt decidedly unsure. My preconception of this race was that I’d be hanging onto the coattails of some very good 5K runners. I needn’t have worried too much. I was already of the mindset of treating the race like any other and putting in the best run I could. We actually got a starters gun within seconds of assembling on the line and off we went. One of my club mates was way up ahead. Another was just in front of me and overall I reckon I was about running around the midpack, as the left hand bend took a slight ascent, before looping right to begin the long downhill backwards the smaller circuit, around which runners would proceed clockwise around to complete the lap. My first km went for 3:12, not too dissimilar to how I normally start 5K runs, before fading. I’d overtaken the club mate immediately in front of me up at the top bend on the first lap and although I lost a place later in the lap to another runner, I was able to use them as a pacer for a while. The next km, slightly uphill, went for 3:18. Then I recorded a 3:17 on the downhill during the second lap, gaining a couple of places in the process. I knew I was on personal record pace, but there was still one final ascent to come. I gritted through the fourth km and recorded 3:35. Not too bad at this point, and still the downhill to come.

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My watch gave out a time of 16:39 for 4.98km, a time that would later be confirmed in the results. I quickly assembled for a photo with all the faster finishers of the ‘A’ leg and then, cheekily, set my watch going again as I ran to the opposite side of the track to round my time up to 5km – which gave a time of 16:45.

My team would eventually finish 19th out of the 38 teams involved. Our ‘A’ team finished 5th out of all the teams, a great result. All five of our men’s teams finished. Our senior ladies also ran brilliantly in the 4x3200m, finishing 9th overall, and our juniors put in some strong performances as well. As a club, a lot of us agree we’re on the up!

I didn’t half suffer for my efforts in the coming days. I ran 11 miles on the Sunday immediately after the race and every single step was a sore one. My Tuesday track session was also run with a bit more caution than usual, particularly with London just around the corner. I just about shook whatever was left from the relay out of my system but wow, the effort put into that race must have been something. Because I smashed everything I’ve ever run for the distance previously.

To put into context, my previous fastest 5K split was at the 2014 Great Birmingham Run, a 17:28 which up until now constituted the fastest 5K I’d ever run. That included a 4:53 mile, my only (to knowledge) sub-5 minute mile ever. I don’t have a true 5K race time, my victory in the Canal Christmas Cracker 5K last year was a long course, run in 19:40, for which I ran 5km in 18:25. I’ve run a short course 17:43 in the Harriers 5K time trial (which measures 4.85km consistently on my watch). My parkrun PB is 18:06. I once ran 17:56 training on my own. Supposing the relay course was a proper 5K (not quite), my run would have probably been 16:45. At most, I was 20 metres short, according to the watch. And other watches also recorded the same distance. So I am effectively counting this as my new 5K PB. Because that was easily a sub-17 minute run, on a not so flat course (though never drastically steep), and all bar one km split was run in under 3:30km. To know I can run that quickly is a massive step for me. The work I put in on Tuesday nights, running laps of the track at Spring Hall, is undeniably improving my top end speed and most importantly, my speed endurance. I’ve never held a 5K together like that before, and I’ll be running 5K as a distance more and more in future. I certainly want to make sub-17 a consistent mark for myself, not just so I can say I actually ran a sub-17 minute 5K, but so I can prove to myself that I’ve found a new level.

All in all, this was a fantastic day organised by the Yorkshire Counties Athletics Association, who picked an excellent venue to play host this year and many, it would seem, hope it returns to the Brownlee Centre in years to come. A big thank you once again to my club for giving me the opportunity to put in a shift for the team, and well done everyone for showing how well club level athletics is represented here in Yorkshire.

All photos taken by WoodentopsFR – check out their excellent work at https://www.woodentops.org.uk

Race Report: The 23rd Liversedge Half Marathon (2018)

Sunday February 18th, 2018

Three years ago, I pulled out what I personally regard as the finest run I’ve ever put together at the Liversedge Half Marathon, a tough, hilly road race situated in West Yorkshire, when I ran to a tenth place finish and a personal best time of 1:22:41, the latest in a line of personal best times from September 2013 that had dropped by minutes, not just seconds. I couldn’t get enough of half marathon then, but I had eyes on stepping up to marathons, which I achieved, and then went one step further, moving onto ultra distance racing. Coupled with an injury in later 2015 and a reduced racing schedule in 2016, I’ve only run 13.1 miles in a race once since that February morning. I didn’t get near my PB in that race, and I was starting to believe that perhaps I had already surpassed the peak of my fast running abilities when I left the half marathon behind in my late twenties. Which, as it turns out, was a completely absurd notion.

I raced Liversedge in both 2014 and 2015 as an unattached runner. Almost every training session undertaken was on my own. I was my own coach, and I rarely ran in a group or undertook regular speed specific workouts. Now, I run for the Halifax Harriers, and have improved my times at 5K and 10K. Having resolved to try and run a sub-3 marathon in London this year, a lot of my training has been dedicated to running quick. And having had a largely positive experience in training so far, I woke up on this particular morning actually feeling I had a good chance of having a crack at my three year PB and succeeding. Any doubts I’d begun to have after months of plodding and picnicking on canal towpaths and rural surrounds had shifted. I truly felt like I had the groove to get back to what I previously loved doing. Plus, I remember the drag I got from chasing the leading pack in 2015 on that wonderful day. Smashing the half marathon was indeed something I was looking forward to see if I was still capable.

Yet, as I stood waiting for my club mate to pick me up en route to the race, I realised my wrist was feeling rather bare. That’s right…


I couldn’t leave my spot, so I quickly resigned myself to doing something I hadn’t done at all, well, not since my earliest races – race without a watch. I’ve run without a watch before, but with a phone app like MapMyRun to announce my mile splits to the whole street from the back pocket of my shorts. I agreed to myself to record the race on MapMyRun but to turn off the voice feedback – how embarrassing would that be at the front end of a race?! So I just forgot about mile splits, and decided to treat the race as an experiment of sorts. My training has been going great, so I felt confident in my pace and pacing strategy. Getting a PB wasn’t the be all and end all, it was now just about finding my level and having a great time regardless.

Reaching the race HQ, it was no different to how I remembered it. The registration room was full of runners, all gathering their race numbers, pinning them to their vests, shirts, shorts and tights, and chatting away with one another. I got my pre-race ‘pit stop’ quickly out of the way and eventually, after bag drop and talking with my fellow attending club mates, it was time to head outside into the cold morning air. By all accounts the last couple of years had brought terrible weather to the race, so today was comparatively exotic by comparison. Just right, in fact, for running.

Before the race

The masses (about five or six hundred) were called to the start line, a quick briefing delivered and then the countdown. Setting off on the most familiar race to myself, I managed to get through the crowds and into a position around the top ten heading out of Roberttown, taking the descent down towards Headlands Road at speed and briefly established myself in third, before being overtaken again. The leader, a very, very good Spenborough AC athlete, was establishing a healthy lead already by this point and knowing of his quality, I didn’t expect him to be caught. Nonetheless, I continued to focus on the race around me. Heading up towards Hightown, I was rushing along in about sixth, and then seventh, as the race progressed onwards along the aptly named Windy Bank Lane (surprisingly calm on this day), and out into Hartshead Moorside. At this point, I was finding myself beginning to lose another place, but the downhill section of Birkby Lane, leading into Bailiff Bridge, was soon upon me and I was able to do what I usually do at this section of the race – throw myself down it with reckless abandon. Knowing full well I could get the momentum if I wanted it, I made sure I got to the bottom of the 14% drop ahead of the runner behind for maximum purchase out of the corner onto Bradford Road.

Bradford Road appears about 5.5 miles into the race, roughly, and just down the road is a tool shop with a big clock/temperature display that announced the time (at this point) to be 11:30am. This must have meant I was going at some great lick, but it was a bit too soon to be getting carried away with wondering if I was on for a personal best. Beyond six miles, and knowing the hilly section was coming up, I reached for my isogel and tried to rip the top of it off with my teeth while maintaining somewhere around six minute mile pace. The manoeuvre malfunctioned, as some of the gel splurged out onto my arm and slightly onto my glasses (though I never realised the latter during the race). Eventually consuming the gel, I reached the corner of Thornhill Bank Road, where I knew my family would be waiting. And sure enough, there they were, my wife poised with her camera phone and my kids raucously cheering me on. I veered off to the right, completely disregarding the runner behind me was right on my heels, and gave my kids a huge high five apiece as I went passed, which they found hilarious!

Heading over to give my kids a high five, and forgetting about the race momentarily!

I managed to get to the ford bridge at the bottom still ahead, but I would begin to suffer at this point for my early pace, and finally I ceded to eighth, then ninth and soon after tenth. The seventh mile was a comparative trudge minutes, and probably a good thing I didn’t have my watch to look at my mile split. Still, with the worst hill in the race out of the way, I could find my way back into my stride as the race plundered towards Clifton.

Heading up Highmoor Lane, aka the Mad Mile, as its known locally, I found myself overtaken by a Sowerby Bridge Snail who was actually quite speedy, belaying his club’s tongue-in-cheek name. But I found a bit of energy in reserve at this point as the hill began to level out and I retook my place. The next mile and a half became a bit of a tussle as both myself and the Snail exchanged back and forth. I opted for this tactically – I felt I’d thrive off having someone to keep me on my toes and at the same time use them to increase my own pace. I’d got a second wind by now and the places continued to swap until turning right off Windy Bank Lane onto Church Road. At this point I got back in front and didn’t give the place up. But it was shortly after clocking the 11 mile mark that I spotted the church clock, roughly two miles from the end of the race. The time on the clock was about 12:07pm. Suddenly, I knew the PB was on. But it felt like it was going to be tight.

It’s hard graft trying to get a PB!

As Church Road started to descend I upped the pace a little more, before reaching the Gray Ox junction, and put everything into flying down that hill. I cleared the next small uphill with ease off that and the race wound over to Fall Lane. Passing the 12 mile marker, I knew this was it. I had to keep going and I put the surge in whenever I could. The man in tenth was up ahead, and I could make inroads on what was about a twenty second gap to him, but I at least maintained the gap. I felt my lower back twinge a little bit but I knew I had to keep going. I truly believed by now I was going to make this happen, although it still remained a mystery to me as to whether I’d actually beat my time from three years ago.

I turned left into Commonside and ran up towards the finish. As the clock came into view, I could’ve sworn I read 1:26…but on closer inspection, it actually reads 1:20! I couldn’t believe it. For the third time at this race, I was going to absolutely blow my personal best to smithereens! Overjoyed I was punching the air and trying to whip the crowd into a few cheers. I crossed the line, finishing 11th, and, completely on feel, managed to finish in under 1:21.

My finishing time would be confirmed by the chip at 1:20:50. A brand new half marathon PB by 1 minute, 51 seconds, almost three years to the day I set my previous mark, also at this race.

I honestly couldn’t believe I pulled out a run like that, but I always knew if there was one course where I could potentially break my half marathon PB, it was Liversedge. I always do well when I have someone to try and keep up with. The winner this year ran 1:14 and the top 9 all ran inside 1:20. I was 20 seconds further back from the guy in tenth. I had roughly a twenty second gap to that man from about mile 8 onwards, and it more or less stayed the same to the finish. Put simply, if you want to get a fast time, Liversedge is a fantastic place to do it despite its undulating nature. I got a good drag to my previous PB in 2015, on this very course, and the same thing has happened here again. It’s fantastic trying to battle at the sharp end, though I realistically would need to be running inside 1:20 to be able to get nearer the front on a given day. Not that I’m disappointed with my 11th place! The place really didn’t matter to me on this occasion.

The only annoyance for myself personally was that I attempted to record my run after all, using MapMyRun, turning it on without voice feedback and with the auto-pause function, so I could start it and record my run quietly after setting off. Only, it didn’t unpause at all, so I actually have no record of what my mile splits were whatsoever. I know I averaged 6:10 mile pace, but I really would have loved to have known what some of those miles. I’ve only gone sub 5 minutes once in my life (4:53) and my next fastest mile after that was a 5:15. I must have got close! Alas, the race doesn’t bear too much use towards analysing my marathon prospects, well, except for right now…the sub-3 marathon is looking very good indeed.

Aside, I’d like to thank the runner and his family who paid for my post race sandwich and cup of tea when I realised I’d left my cash at home. It wasn’t much but it was a cracking gesture. I shall be more careful where I stash my cash next time!

That this race continues to sell out year upon year absolutely affirms its status, in my eyes, as one of the calendar highlights in road racing in the north of England if not beyond. A magnificent, testing race, it continues to attract runners from all the local clubs as well as drawing in the unattached, generates the support of members of the Roberttown Road Runners, the hosts of this race, and community volunteers who ensure the event goes year on year without a hitch.

Liversedge Half Marathon home page

Race Report: Canal Christmas Cracker 5K 

Sunday December 10th, 2017

At this time of year, in the last two years I’ve run the Great Yorkshire Pieathlon, a hilly trail race involving pie-eating and all manner of silly costumes. I enjoyed shoving mince pies down my face as I run, but this year I wanted a different challenge while still running a shorter distance than I traditionally race. The Canal Christmas Cracker 5K fit the bill perfectly, completely sans pies (until the end, at least), and somewhat less hilly – a decision which, Post-White Rose Ultra, seemed like a masterstroke. Indeed, you can’t get much flatter than a canal most of the time, save for, in this case, a couple of up and down footbridges that required navigation.

The last few days building up to the race, however, seemed ominous to say the least. Britain was about to get a blast from Storm Caroline – which, in my part of the country, seemed more like a bit of a shower and little else – followed by an icy currant of weather that would send temperatures subzero. Queue a nervous few days as reports of heavy snow came in from down south and races around the country were either cancelled or subject to review. 

Meanwhile, in Brighouse, the little town that could, it really tried hard to snow.  And yet every flurry, every downfall failed to come to fruition. This was the scene on Friday afternoon… 

Dashing through the sn…oh…

Effusing positivity, it seemed, were the team at It’s Grim Up North Running, who via Facebook were doing everything to assure runners that the race would be going ahead, between posting pictures of delicious looking cake, something of a trademark that has become synonymous with this wonderful Leeds based events company. Having done two events earlier in the year (the Sir Titus Trot in January, the Leeds-Liverpool Canal Canter in March), it seemed right to close off my year of running with a crack at one of their shorter events, although there was still a marathon here to be ran if you really fancied upwards of 3 or 4 hours, maybe more, running in absolutely freezing cold conditions. And in typically northern fashion, we would not be deterred. 

I was very glad, however, to reach the registration venue in Kirkstall. The chill I felt after leaving the bus was immense. Thankfully the heating was on and the main function room seemed to be packed. I wandered over to the 5K and 10K registration desk and didn’t even need to introduce myself. I was actually recognised? Apparently I was the really fast runner who was going to run the 5K in 18 minutes! I played down my expectations, modest as I ever am, because as fun as this was going to be (if running in subzero is your idea of fun), it was still a race to be run, not necessarily to be won. 

I went back after completing my warm up exercises and introduced myself to James, a fellow runner from the online running community, Running the World. He had been helping with registration and was also running the 10K. After exchanging a few stories about running and, indeed, the weather, it was time to head back out to go to the start/finish at Kirkstall Bridge. Not without wishing one another luck, of course. 

The race start was a little chaotic, and partly through my own doing. I decided to go on a warm up jog down the canal, just to check the towpath for ice, and obviously to get my running legs going before the off. Except, in doing so, I missed the majority of the race briefing. How despicable of me. I understood at least there was going to be a staggered start, with the half, 20 mile and marathon racers going first travelling west under Kirkstall Bridge, with the 5K and 10K runners starting a bit further back on the other side, heading out east towards Leeds. I complicated matters when another runner said he thought the 5K runners were starting back the other side of the bridge, so I listened and found nearly everyone had come towards where I’d come from. So I went back, and just stood with the 10K runners as the longer distance runners hurriedly started their race. So much so that a few runners also turned up late for their start, so the group didn’t go through in one go. With nearly everyone, it seemed, through, the countdown to the 5 and 10K began. And yes, I asked if this was the 5K start. James said ‘just run Peter!’ The horn was sounded, my brief embarrassment and self-shame put to one side as I sprinted off the line. Incredibly, more of the half and full runners came under Kirkstall Bridge after the 5 and 10K races began, which meant I had to manoeuver around them tightly cornering the outside of the towpath.

After all that, I finally had clear towpath ahead of me. And so I just ran my natural race, ie. to go as hard and fast as possible. Resulting in a 3:25 first km, according to watch. That would be as quick as it got, with the aforementioned hills up ahead to contend with, brief as they were, and the biting cold perhaps just slowing me by a few seconds here and there. Nonetheless, at the turn, I was well clear, and eventually past the leading 10K runners, which included James, offering a sort of high five as we crossed paths. I had quite a gap back to second and really could enjoy the thrill of ideal conditions as far as this day could be expected – about 98% ice free throughout, save for a few icy muddy puddles which were navigated without too much difficulty.

The race distance exceeded 5km as it happened, so I knew I couldn’t count on my time here as a PB – I went through 5km in 18:15, a good few seconds off my parkrun PB – but ended up running another. 35km according to watch, finishing in 19:40. Nonetheless, I was able to enjoy something I’d never experienced before as a runner in an actual race – victory!

I slowed up at the line and gratefully received a finisher’s medal, along with the winner’s trophy for 1st Placed Male. I even got my photo taken in front of Kirkstall Bridge. And unlike the Canal Canter Ultra earlier in the year, I was able to stomach one of the masses of cake and pastries so lovely served up for the runners at the finish. The cranberry tart I had was incredible!

Holding the 5K 1st Male trophy. Finally number 1

It turned out I finished, in 5K distance terms, a long way ahead of the second place male, and it turned out only 5 people ran the 5K, myself included. IGUNR are still an up and coming events company, and for my money one of the best around – it seems, however, their more popular events are 10K upwards to half and full marathon distances, and most of their race entry allocation goes on these events. The only nitpicking I could stage on this occasion is the slightly chaotic staggered start (of which I played my own small part), but this is a minor quibble because it didn’t actually delay the start, and at the end of the day, its a Christmas race, a chance for a bit of fun. 

I’ll never let anything take away from what I achieved – I was best on the day and that’s about as much as anyone can say. It caps an absolutely amazing 12 months, which started with 5th at last year’s Pieathlon – two thirds, a second, a couple more top 10 finishes, and now a first place finish at last. I can honestly say I never expected to win a race, and would have been happy just to excel myself, yet at the same time, it felt like such a long time coming and ultimately I’m very happy I’ve actually achieved it.

Many thanks to Diane, Cath and the It’s Grim Up North Running team for putting on this event and working tirelessly to ensure it went ahead, despite the harsh weather conditions preceding the race, and their incredible positivity and enthusiasm for ensuring another successful race event. A massive thank you to the marshals who stood for hours in the cold conditions, and well done to all who competed on this, well, grim day up north. 

It’s Grim Up North Running website

Race Report: White Rose Ultra 2017

Saturday November 4th, 2017

The twelve hours or so preceding this race were a little stressful. I had kids bedtime to do on my own and the little mites wouldn’t sleep! Then I had a hour in the evening trying to get my kit ready – cleaning my hydration bladder, sorting out my mandatory kit, my clothing, etc., while trying to get enough sleep. I slept only around six hours, and after showering, found that my plan to eat porridge about 30 minutes before my bus, just after 5:30am, were ill conceived. I couldn’t even finish my porridge either. I ended up hastily packing my hydration fluid and sachets away, getting out the door to my bus too hastily, in a bit of a panic. When on the bus, I got listening to a random mix of Leftfield, The Album Leaf, doom bringers Thou, and then Run The Jewels (who I’m off to see Thursday!), before proceeding to get off the bus a stop early. No matter. I enjoyed my walk to race HQ, while gleefully uttering the words ‘RTJ3, motherf****rs’ with nobody about to hear, all while admiring the majesty of Pule Hill, which overlooks the village of Marsden, in early morning darkness. By now I could at least relax at race HQ and get my things prepared while counting down to race time.

Race day was finally here, some five months after that whimsical decision. The White Rose Ultra. One of northern England’s premier ultra marathons was finally here, in its 5th year, welcoming runners from far and wide to attempt one loop, two loops, or three (+ 10 additional miles) of its 30 mile course.
It was good to converse with other entrants, as it always is – in running you rarely need to talk about anything else – and I even met a regular from the Running the World Facebook group – before warming up, setting my baggage to one side. The room went from relatively empty when I first arrived to the whole visitor centre being full of runners, some new to this ultra game, others more experienced, coming from all parts of the UK and beyond.

Everyone began to gather outside. The rain wasn’t lashing down by any means, but the air was still damp. Plenty of time remained for selfies and some further warming up before Wane, the race director, debriefed the runners shortly before the race began.

As the 30 second warning went out, I realised I hadn’t switched on my watch! I quickly turned it on but of course, it was never going to find a satellite so quickly. Alas, the race set off, and my watch took a good minute or two before I could get it going. I was quickly established around the first seven or eight runners, already spread out as one guy doing the 30 had already opened up a gap heading towards Mount Road. Once on the hill, the gap spread out a little more, but we all kept in touch more or less. The race then took a tight angle to the left, heading back down Old Mount Road. I could only note the leader getting away further from the other lead runners. The downhill gradient was an invitation to inject some pace into proceedings, and I gained a few places, before ceding two immediately after mistaking a dead end for Binn Road, the road leading to the Wessenden Valley and Pennine Way. The hills were already proving challenging, but eventually it levelled out as the trail emerged. To the left, walls, bushes and hills. To the right, reservoirs, spillways and more hills. One of Yorkshire’s most spectacular sights, right on the edge of the Lancashire boundary. Notably, the leader was getting away even further. I thought he’d surely overcooked it, but who was I to know. I focused on my own race and continued to navigate the numerous puddles and muddy footpaths left by the overnight rain. Its a gentle climb up to the top of the Wessenden Valley, with only the last climb to the top having a bit of sting in the tail.

The first self serve water station was here, and I got some in my reusable cup, which was a bit flimsy in terms of keeping its shape and actually getting anything from it. At this point, I’d still not had any caffeine. I needed to shock myself, it seemed, so as the wind gripped at the top of Wessenden Head, I chucked the remaining water in my face. I seemed instantaneously awoken, like whatever punishment I’d sustained subsided and now it was time to enjoy some road running. I kept to my tactic though, of trying to stop for nourishment every hour, so I slowed down and finally took some of my caffeine drink, along with a slice of Soreen malt loaf. This allowed a runner to overtake me, so I ensured I didn’t hang about took long in my walk phase and got moving again, taking the left off the road to head through the trails leading to Blackmoorfoot reservoir.

Here I made some inroads into the positions, gaining two places, but my jacket was loosening from my waist, and I decided it needed to go back in the bag. I got to a corner in the road, having really worked hard, took off the vest and set it down to put it back. Only, the zip jammed. It would not open. I was overtaken again, and so, furious with myself, ran off carrying the jacket for a short distance before tying it back around my waist as the route crossed more trail. I got back into my rhythm and noticed up ahead that two runners were crossing by the Blackmoorfoot Reservoir. I was still some distance behind at this point, but as I left the reservoir behind, I began to catch up these two runners at the first food station. I reached the food desk just as they left, grabbed a sausage roll and more water, and quickly set off again, feeling I could keep my pace up over this relatively mild section.

Heading towards Linthwaite, I was enjoying a rich vein of running form. I seemed to be running well at this point, and the view from above was even more enjoyable due to the presence of two deer, absolutely at peace. The route barreled down towards Linthwaite village, and before I knew it, I’d overtaken the two men (one doing the 30, the other running the 60) and was keeping the pace downhill.

I kept up the pace as the race reached Linthwaite, but I knew what was coming next. The next 6 miles or so were filled with steep hills, winding through Wellhouse, Bolster Moor, Leymoor, and then up towards Scapegoat Hill. I had slowed up a little to try and retain a much steadier momentum up the hill, but I’d forgotten how steep the incline towards Bolster Moor was! I dropped a few places here and saved my legs as the race led to the right, once past the farm shop. At this point, I came across one of my club mates from the Halifax Harriers, who had come out for a little while to take some photos, all of which took place on some of the less stressful sections of the route, which were taking their toll already. I did my best to smile – I was genuinely pleased to see someone I knew out on course. He would appear again a little further up the road. Apparently the front runners were only a couple of minutes ahead, but realistically I knew I was beginning to suffer.

Leaving Bolster Moor. Looking strong at this point!

I reached the trail section known as Hollin Hall Lane here, which is all downhill into the village of Leymoor, but the overnight rain made going down in treacherous. The runner behind me said it was dicy in road shoes, and my toothy Salomons had little grip either. I jarred my left achillies at one point, and near the bottom I managed to whack my left ankle with my right foot. That one seemed particularly painful at the time, but on I went. It didn’t inhibit my gait, and the road was a nice diversion before heading up the cobbles of Dodlee Lane. This one was run-walked. Further along the next country road was the next aid station, combined with a water station as well. More water and a couple of Jelly Babies, I was off again. 

Still going well…

The next section wound past the Outlane golf course. This is pretty much where my race as I knew it began to unravel. My quads had basically had enough. Scarily too, had my lower calf muscles. I found myself stopping to stretch them at one point, but I felt good to continue. Seeing the M62 up ahead meant I must be near the top, but there just seemed to be another hill every time I turned a corner. Eventually, I came out onto the end of Pole Moor, heading towards New Hey Road, and I could no longer see anyone in front. My race had truly gone to hell, in the sense that any pre-race strategy was out of the window as walk breaks were far more frequent, and that my quads, going uphill at least, were deadweight. The nutrition remained more or less the same, as I started taking gels to try and give myself a boost. Even on New Hey Road, I was struggling to run and I really had to remind myself this was left foot, right foot stuff. I looked back as I took the next turn, and saw no one behind me. Not that I cared for where I finished, but it was surely a matter of time before someone else caught and passed me.

I started to pick up a little more energy at last, heading into mile 23. I felt like I had the reserves to move things up and even if it was still, to me, a nine minute mile I was running, it was still progress on before. The race was now entering its closing phase, winding through Bradshaw, Slaithwaite and finally into Marsden. I felt reasonably OK until I felt some sort of cramp coming into my quads, fearing it could be curtains if it took hold. So I stopped, trying to do a quad stretch and nearly made it worse. Finding it better to keep going, the cramp oddly disappeared and I was able to keep going at around nine-ten minute miles, as the course became very undulating. Down one drop and a right hand turn, along the road, then another right turn.

And there it was. Plains Lane. At mile 29/59/89 depending on which race you were in. It starts off steep, then flattens a little before becoming even steeper and finally turning trail and. retaining its steepness. Goodness knows what gradient it is, I already made my promise to myself weeks ago I was walking nearly every inch of this hill, and I delivered. It was a massive slog, and yet, as I took one last look behind me, looking down the hill, still I found no one behind me. If I was getting caught anywhere it was this hill, but as I finally reached the peak, nope, still no one had passed, and I had my running legs again.

There was still one gentle climb to navigate but the miles and yards were running out on this race. Eventually, a left turn would see myself looking downhill, and at last, a left pointing arrow directing towards the finish. I found some resolve, bolstered by the knowledge the end was near, and finally found some pace as I ran the remaining fractions of a mile. I got those knees lifted, those shoulders moving, and as the right turn approached, I even lengthened my stride! I charged down the hill, turned left and crossed the finish running stronger than at any time since about mile 16. I was quickly informed at the finish line I’d finished tenth! Not a bad result at all.

Heading back upstairs, the chief organisers Wane and Kate, whom know me on first name terms having partaken in the Pieathlon and having got hilariously lost during the (Wo)Man vs Barge last year, presented me with a medal and t-shirt. I confirmed to them I didn’t want to do another loop of the course, and headed off for the post-race grub. Vegetarian chilli!

This was far from a perfect race for me, mostly in terms of my own transgressions against myself – not setting my watch at the start was most unlike myself, though I only wanted it mostly for recording my run rather than tracking my pace constantly.  Trying to keep up the pace and not stop for rest at aid stations was a rookie mistake. The decision to take out my jacket at the start of the race when the rain, in retrospect, wasn’t so bad and was beginning to clear, wasn’t a great one due to the faffing about with the jacket, especially when I stopped to load it into my race vest, which itself was a bane during and after the race due to a label getting caught in the zip. Nothing quite like mid-race for your kit to malfunction. And as a minor point, the water stops weren’t entirely consistent with what was stated pre-race. Every five miles turned out to be more like this (as a rough guide); mile 6, 11, 18, 20 and at the finish (or end of lap for the 60/100 runners). Of course, I don’t expect a water stop right in the middle of a three mile section of the Pennine Way. But the lack of a water station around mile 25 meant for myself, I was tapping into what was left in my hydration bladder (mostly empty of caffeine drink) and a single water bottle which was intended for consumption with gels and basically as and when required. I had enough to get to the end though, and nobody else saw it as a particular issue, but 10 miles without fresh water just wasn’t something I’ve ever experienced at miles 20-30 of any race. Hey, I’m new to this ultra running lark!
The race had so much more going for it though. My own recce from the summer was invaluable on the day, but had I not done so, turning up and running the route for the first time on race day would have been just as reassuring. Incredibly well signposted on the day, it really felt impossible to go wrong. That’s what you want from a 30 mile loop where it would be difficult to get enough people to volunteer far and wide. So top marks to the organisers there. The scenery, like most places in Yorkshire, is simply stunning, from the Wessenden Valley to Pole Moor, to Scammonden Water and the hills over Marsden itself. The work you have to put in to see such sights though!

And on a personal note, I must thank Wane, the main man at Team OA and race director, for allowing me to participate in this race for free. This was a transfer for a cancelled race earlier in the summer and given the generally higher costs of entering an ultra marathon, that kind of generosity, whether in reparation or otherwise, does not go unnoticed. So cheers for a brilliant day Wane!

And as if the Canal Canter hadn’t taught me so, I’m in awe of the ultra marathon community in presence at the WRU. This is without question one of the hardest races on the calendar, absolutely worth its UTMB points accreditation, but beyond that is an indomitable spirit among everyone at this race who put themselves through the ringer, from the record breakers in the 30, up to the 100 milers staying out into the early hours in pursuit of the ultimate endurance goal, to those who did their utmost to finish and those who had to make the distance to drop out part way through. You’re all incredible. Its not about times, it’s not all about speed. Its determination, a mindset, the ultimate enjoyment of running. The pursuit, and celebration, of adventure and adversity.

But am I glad to see the back of this race? Yes I am. I found this such a punishing, gruelling race that I’m canning the long distance runs now until I begin training for the London Marathon. Its been a long, successful year, and with a couple of shorter December races to follow, I really have had enough for now of running even 10 miles at this point! I think I’ll simply take the time to ease back into running, enjoy the shorter distances and find the time to reflect on the amazing memories and experience I can take from this race.

White Rose Ultra official website

Race Report: Ilkley Aquathlon 2017

Saturday September 16th, 2017

To club triathletes and seasoned multisporters, the Ilkley Triathlon & Aquathlon are highlights of the club & local tri calendar, and in the latter’s case, a fantastic introduction for junior athletes to get some early experience. Then there are people like me, who have never taken part in a full sprint or standard distance multisport event and basically want to have a go to see if they like it, or to have a bit of fun with the challenge.

In my case, the Ilkley Aquathlon had come to symbolize a little bit more for me. Just under 2.5 years ago, fresh off an incident at my local pool which led to me being dragged out before I got into further difficulty, I took part in the Go Tri Yorkshire Aquathlon, a 100 metre swim, and 1200 metre run. I swam the entire 100 metres head above water, but found it such an enjoyable experience that ever since, I’ve taken over two years of swimming lessons just to get to the point of being capable for this one race. If London and Snowdonia were my target races last year, this was arguably my target race this year. I’m now much improved, a capable front crawl swimmer who can move at decent pace (though not competitively fast), with a decent technique, and reasonable endurance. Though I’d never once swam 400 metres in one go, my swim training for this race left me believing I absolutely could. I was absolutely looking forward to this race, and absolutely couldn’t wait to take my first true step into the world of multisport, and one step closer to my ultimate goal of becoming a triathlete.

My trip to the race venue was going really well until I arrived, when I stepped on one of my elastic laces and snapped it, meaning I had to tie knots in it to prevent it from unravelling, and to keep it attached to my foot. Undeterred, and not reading into it as a sign of things to come, I walked to race registration and became reacquainted with the ankle tag – the thing they use in these events to time each part of your swim, transition and run consecutively. Even better was the offer of a free hat! An unexpected perk.

The setting out back was amazing. The lido was closed but it sits right with the backdrop of Ilkley Moor for company. I bet that’s a cracking place to be on a warm day. But I digress. The race briefing was given out by a man who looked not unlike WWE megastar John Cena. After he gave the crystal clear information to everyone, I proceeded to leave my vest, shoes and a towel in transition, convinced I would be fine with safety pins and not a race number belt, having carefully tried successfully to put the vest and pins over my head and over my t-shirt. With that taken care of, it was over to the spectator area. I wasn’t due to race until 4:47pm. I could easily have gone back into Ilkley for another hour or so, but to do what exactly? I thought I might as well soak up the atmosphere of my first aquathlon race proper. So I had my lunch and went out to the back where the run course was, walking once round it to get a good idea of the 600 metre route.

My race number (picture taken post-event)

In this country at least, the majority of aquathlon races (of which there aren’t many) are aimed at juniors getting into triathlon. So the first wave of runners where known as the Tri Start wave (for entrants born in 2009, would do two lengths of the 25 metre pool (50m total) and one lap of the 600 metre course. The three Tri Star groups, comprising slightly older children per category – Tri Star 1 (born 2007-08) would incrementally do four pool lengths and run two laps, Tri Star 2 (born 2005-06) swim eight pool lengths and run three laps, Tri Star 3 (2003-04) swim twelve lengths and run four laps up to Youth/Adult (born 2000 or earlier), doing a full sixteen pool lengths (400m) and five laps of the run course (3000m). Time passed, along with a passing rain shower that lasted for about 10 minutes, with barely anywhere to shelter. As I worried about changing into my now possibly wet shoes and vest, the rain subsided, the sun broke out a little, and the racing continued. At about 3pm, still just under two hours to launch, I went inside and observed the swim legs. There was a 10 second countdown for each event, and I keenly observed the swim pedigree of some of the older juniors, seeking an opportunity to just watch them go through their stroke and trying to observe the tumble turns, something I haven’t yet mastered. Although thankfully I wasn’t the only one. I would later get dressed into my swim shorts, then my hat and goggles, as time ticked down.
We were all briefed by one of the race marshals at the shallow end of the pool. There were about 10 or 11 of us. I generally have done well in races with smaller fields, but I wasn’t taking anything for granted given I was likely to come out behind in the swim. We were later assigned into lanes and (finally) led to poolside.

So this was it. After nearly 2.5 years, numerous swim lessons, and 22 prior waves on race day, it was time to get in the pool. I dunked my head into the water to check my goggles weren’t letting anything in. All good. I assumed the push and glide position as the 10 second countdown commenced. At 1, my head went under and the race began.

The first thing I noticed was the guy next to me was absolutely off like a rocket. By the time I’d completed 25m, he was already into his second length and by 50m he was already coming back to start his fourth length. But I wasn’t concerning myself with him. I just kept focused on completing the swim. But something wasn’t right. By 100m some sort of tiredness had crept into my right arm, and by 125m I was feeling very tired. I wasn’t trying to keep up with anyone, I was swimming how I normally swim. What on earth was going on? I made it to 150 metres and needed a few seconds to take a breather. I kept going and did the next 50m, but at 250m I had lost count of how many lengths I had left. I was taking an extra second or two at each end to gather myself. This was not what I’d come to expect.

I was getting a lot of encouragement from the volunteers to keep going though, and this was certainly keeping me from even contemplating the thought of not finishing. I certainly didn’t want to be the one ‘DNF’ on the results, having put so much into getting into shape to do the swim. But the encouragement poolside was helping me think positive and at 300m I was told I had four lengths to go. Finally, knowing the end of the swim was close, I got back to it and seemed to swim my best 100m of all. I knew I would grow into the swim, just not like this. In any event, I reached the end, to a few cheers from poolside and more encouragement from the volunteers. I climbed out and walked to the transition herehere, offering brief thanks and acknowledgment on my way out. I was the last one out.

A couple of years ago, at the Go Tri event I did, we didn’t have race numbers to attach, and I seemlessly got my shirt and shoes on that day. Here, I got my shoes on first, no worries. Now the vest – over it went. Then, it seemed to coil up, and just as I’d feared, the safety pins were causing a problem. That, and the fact I was still wet emerging from the water, it took a good 30 seconds alone to get the vest to cover my body. Then I’d realised as I left transition I’d forgotten to tighten my elastic laces, and bumped into John Cena who was coming back into the transition area. He was very apologetic but I honestly didn’t mind, I just had to get the awful transition behind me and get into my run. 

I always knew I could catch people up on the run, and so it proved here. Emboldened by my recent success in club handicap races, I overtook runners on the course which we all had to do 5 laps of. I worked out the best, least muddiest route and used this to my advantage, making sure to accelerate out of the tight angled turns with as much power as possible and in the end, completed the run without too much fuss. Upon receiving my time via a printout – 23:35 in total – I found out I was indeed the 3rd male. Out of four. Placing fourth overall.

As one of the top three men, I would be presented with a plaque. There was applause from those who’d gathered, and then that was it. Off to get my train back home.

My overall feeling was somewhat strange about the whole thing. I felt that my race, barring the run, had gone pretty badly and I felt I’d only won the plaque through sheer lack of numbers. I’d only come for the challenge and the experience. I was pretty ambivalent about receiving such a prize. That doesn’t mean I’m not grateful for it, but it kind of feels odd to see it sat there right now next to my trophies for the Sir Titus Trot and the Leeds Liverpool Canal Canter, both races where I’d placed highly in a more competitive field. Family and friends, at home and on social media, were much more encouraging (one of my kids said ‘you know, third place is still a good place to finish!’), others reminding me that you can only beat who turns up on the day, and third is third no matter what. I’m not going to reject that reasoning either!

Sporting my race swag (post-event)

But as for an experience in multisport, it was definitely a valuable one. In hindsight, my somewhat bad swim is one I’m putting down to psychological factors – I’ve never swam competitively before, and it honestly feels like my body went into some ‘fight or flight’ situation despite my best efforts to treat it as any other swim. It won’t put me off trying again someday, but it does put into focus what I need to work on. Namely adapting to cope mentally in competitive pool swims, build my swim endurance, and, should I come to race an aquathlon again, or indeed a triathlon, for all that is sacred, get a trisuit and a number belt! Transition would be a lot simpler if I did.
All in all, a slightly chasening welcome to multisport was endured, but at a great local event. Anyone wanting to take part in a well supported local multisport could do far worse than turn up here during the weekend of the aquathlon and triathlon. I can honestly say the encouragement from those poolside got me through that swim, and I’m absolutely grateful for it! Granted, Ilkley is a bit out of the way for some – it took me just under 90 minutes using public transport from Brighouse, about 15 miles away – but you’ll get a great, no pressure experience here and not to mention a great magnet for the junior triathletes. A big thank you must go to the volunteers and marshals, and indeed Leeds Bradford Triathlon, for making this event a success year on year.

I’m also sorry there aren’t many photos – there was a strict policy on photos at the event due to junior involvement, parental permission, etc, so I kept my phone away. I’ve not found official photos either since the event, but that’s no problem personally. I still have the memories of the event itself. 

Thank you all for reading.

Ilkley Aquathlon event page

Race Report: Honley 10K Trail Run

Sunday August 27th, 2017

I booked this race very early in the year, when trying to fill my race calendar out for the year. This one popped up in my Facebook feed in what I’m fairly sure was a ‘sponsored’ (aka ‘targeted based on your interests) post, with the offer of entry for a fiver. A fiver! Money was tight, but I couldn’t honestly complain at a cheap race entry. I had a nice run into Honley once as well. I generally like Huddersfield and its valleys, so I didn’t need much convincing and my entry was booked. Hooray for cheap races in the age of austerity!

Fast forward seven months later, and its fair to say that some might have seen this as an inconvenience, given what I’d signed myself up for in the meantime. You see, that race I was meant to do back in June, The Drop, where you get blindfolded and all navigational aids are taken from you, leaving you to get back to Huddersfield from wherever you get dropped off 5, 10 or 15 miles as the crow flies – it got cancelled due to a lack of sales. So as compensation, I was offered to transfer my entry into one of Team OA’s other races. Lo and behold, I chose to ignore the Pieathlon, the Wineathlon, the Halifax Marathon, the Chocathlon and even the Aleathlon, and instead went for ‘the daddy’ – the White Rose Ultra. 30 miles of wonderful valleys and brutal hills. Niiiiice…

Training for an ultra obviously demands respect, so how exactly to tackle an 18 mile run taking in the first 13 miles of the course roughly 24 hours before said ‘bargain race’. Don’t say easy, because the course is anything but, though aside from one or two hills early in the route, my run this day was far more tipped towards beauty than brutality.

One day earlier…looking down on Butterley Spillway, near Marsden

Nonetheless, it was a fine balancing act, but judging by the fact I came through unscathed, ache free, injury free and relatively recovered by early evening, I felt ready to get to the business of running a 10K course that to all intents and purposes, had become a slightly square peg in my training plans. Although it did get me out on a Sunday, so I can’t complain at the mileage overall.

The weather this fine day was absolutely cracking. The sun was out, with only a little cloud cover, and so it felt pretty warm even before I’d exuded any effort. I perhaps stood out a little in my blue Halifax Harriers colours – they were all at the Tour of Norland fell race a few miles away; I was very much among the whites of the Stadium Runners of Huddersfield. Nonetheless, I guess I was coming into the race on an upswing, rather than having tapered leading to it. Its worked for me in the past, so I was hopeful of a good run in club colours, even with that 18 miler hidden away somewhere.

Before the race

The race started just after 11am, with an out and back from the cricket club, through a gate and down into Honley Village. In previous years, the race ended with a climb through the village centre, but the course was now reversed to ensure minimal disruption to motorists by sending runners through before they got strung out. From here the run went up another climb, before levelling out as the race ventured into Honley Old Wood. I took a cup of water at this point as my mouth felt fairly dry, but nearly choked trying to take a mouthful at speed, so I eventually took a sip and discarded the cup not far from the stop – I very much doubted I was going to spot a bin to deposit it, and I wasn’t near enough to offer it to anyone else.

I entered the woods in fifth place, and the fourth place runner was in sight ahead of me. I wasn’t reeling him in, but I was doing a good job nonetheless of sticking to my own race plan and just about keeping them in my sights. I was following the red tape around the trees and remembering the exact route as per my race recce about 12 days prior. Into the next part of the woods, where it got a bit more twisty-turny before an exciting downhill section followed by a switchback to head back in the direction of Honley. Through the woods I continued, as the mud began to accumulate. My race was going well – I felt I was running confidently in a discipline I’ve not altogether been at ease with in race situations over the years. 

Running through Honley Woods

The woods then hit a slight climb but I managed to get up and over it to little detriment, and I briefly exited onto a section of road. Soon there was a right turn right into a vicious climb up to the original woodland area. Here is where my 18 miler the day before caught up with me. I opted to powerwalk than try to run it, each step feeling like it was sapping my energy. I could see the runner behind gaining a little, but I emerged at the top still in fifth. Through the woods I continued, until I reached a section which completely flummoxed me. I stopped, unsure where to go. The runner behind caught up, assured me I was going the right way, and went past me. I made sure I thanked him but I wanted the place back. I knew the next part of the race was going to get particularly narrow in places.
The race entered some fields which followed a wall on the left and included various stone stiles to shuffle round. After a couple of these, I managed to surge and got back into fifth by the next stile. Next, a narrow, long-grassed section, and then another path, which led to a series of open fields. The paths across them were clearly defined, as we’re the arrows at each stile. I made a beeline for each one. At the second or third of these, I gashed my knee. I didn’t bother to check the damage. I just knew I wasn’t shaking off the runner behind me. Over and around more stiles. We were now in the streets. Through another public footpath, and there was the playing field above the cricket ground.

Over the stile I went. Initially I ran a little bit wide and I could see the runner behind alongside in my peripheral vision. I put in a surge and made sure I stayed in front as I got to the final stile post down the side of the cricket ground. I kicked hard as we approached the final switchback, and kicked hard out of there, surging for the line and finishing in 5th place, in an official time of 46:48. Not my fastest time, but an excellent result nonetheless, adding another top 5 finish to my records dating back to the Great Yorkshire Pieathlon last year.

After the race
T’is but a scratch

I can reflect positively on my race, given the 18 miles I had to carry over in my legs from the day before. Its not a PB course by any stretch, and although I couldn’t keep up with the leaders, or get up one of those hills, I feel I’ve improved on the trails as a whole and it showed in this race, most notably in the muddy woodland section, where I can say I felt as confident as I’ve ever been in that element – it helps to have good shoes with great lugs, like, that actually grip – the number of times in the past I’ve been underprepared underfoot! But in so much as having the confidence to run to my best across such terrain on the day, this was definitely one of my better races overall, despite needing help to regain my bearings around 3.5 km from the end!

This is a cracking little race in a corner of Huddersfield that’s been going now for six years. I only paid £5 to enter as a promotional charge and it seems like the organiser, Rob, tries his very best to run this event on a small scale, limited budget. The route only went out about two weeks before the event, and this was posted on Strava and captured on video by the organiser posting a shoot of the route. The start/finish arch was borrowed from a well known local race events company. It appeared family and friends were helping with handing out race numbers, baking homemade flapjack and rocky road for the runners. There were no medals, no t-shirts, just pure racing to be had (although the first male & female each get a prize). The times were all ‘gun-timed’ – perhaps the only let down, as on more than one occasion I’ve had to point out I finished 5th, not 6th, and both mine and the 6th placed runner’s time should be a minute slower – I have a new/refurbished Garmin and photos to prove it! However not at all results were affected, and I can accept things like this can happen. This race has now been going six years, and its evident that Rob is passionate about making sure the race is accessible and an enjoyable experience. I certainly feel the event was a success and would love to see it remain a part of the local race calendar.

All in all, a great day out and despite the slight issue with the result, I’d recommend the Honley 10K is a great race to try out your trail running skills, and at a very reasonable price too. Not the easiest course but not a bad place to start, and in an absolutely beautiful corner of West Yorkshire too.

As for myself, I’ve now got to juggle the demands of further ultra marathon training with the imminently approaching swim training for the Ilkley Aquathlon in a mere 15 days time. Crumbs!

Cheers to Wane Law and Andrew Swales for the ‘action’ photos.

Honley 10K Trail Run website